Phylogenetic evidence for multiple losses of a sexually selected character in phrynosomatid lizards

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The evolution of conspicuous male display ornaments is a common trend in diverse groups of organisms and a continuing challenge to studies of sexual selection. A phylogenetic approach was used to examine macro-evolutionary patterns of change in sexually dichromatic display coloration (distinctively coloured belly patches) among 130 taxa of phrynosomatid lizards. The results showed repeated losses of sexual dimorphism, which occur through losses of conspicuous male coloration or gains of conspicuous female coloration. The frequent loss of male traits is surprising, given that sexual selection presumably drives their evolutionary origin and maintenance, but is consistent with a recently proposed hypothesis suggesting that females may lose responsiveness to male traits over macro-evolutionary time-scales. The observation of repeated losses of male traits in phrynosomatid lizards (and other groups) may have implications for testing among competing models for the evolution of female preferences. A concentrated changes test showed that changes in male display coloration are significantly associated with the use of ground-dwelling habitat, as opposed to rock- or tree-dwelling habitats. This result suggests a role for natural selection in the loss of male display traits in phrynosomatid lizards, but habitat type alone may be insufficient to explain these losses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1529-1535
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1428
StatePublished - Aug 7 1999


  • Character evolution
  • Display ornaments
  • Phrynosomatid lizards
  • Phylogeny
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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